Copyright © horse search ltd 2020
For this Horse Search blog, we have teamed up with Ruby at EquiPepper who has shared some great insights in to buying and owning thoroughbreds and removing some of the myths that thoroughbreds have been unfairly titled with. A must-read, if you are thinking that buying an ex-racehorse or thoroughbred, could be suitable for you.
Hi, I am Ruby Butchers. I’m in my mid-twenties and feel like I am a typical example of how you don’t need to come from a horsey family to live and breathe horses. I have ridden for over 20 years, have ridden almost exclusively thoroughbreds and ex-racehorses for about 10 years and have owned my ex-racehorse Scottie for 7 years.
I studied Equine Science at University, which is when I decided to buy my first ex-racehorse, Scottie. During a University project, I had to create an online portfolio of my skills and experience with horses. This in turn developed into my award-winning blog EquiPepper.
EquiPepper started to document my progress retraining Scottie from racehorse to riding horse. Over time it developed into more of a hub of horse knowledge, aiming to answer all those niggling questions horse owners have but might feel silly asking. But thoroughbreds and ex-racehorses still remain a focus 6 years later.
And are thoroughbreds better suited to certain routines, yards or owners (experienced owners rather than novices etc.)
I don’t think they differ as much as people think. Yes, they have been selectively bred for hundreds of years to go fast in a straight line, so you would think they would be quite different to other breeds of horse. But they have also been used for improving sports horses for generations. Thoroughbred genes make up about 35% of genes in the Hanoverian stud book population. A good amount of thoroughbred blood is still very popular in eventers and thoroughbred crosses have been popular for all riders for years. So while there probably are some differences between a stereotypical thoroughbred compared to a stereotype from another breed, I don’t think the differences are as big as people seem to think they are.
When you think thoroughbred, many people think; skinny, hyperactive, injury-prone, difficult, wussy and possibly dangerous. This is what the breed has become known as in the wider horse industry. Yes, some thoroughbreds are all of those things, (as are other horse breeds) but some are none of them. More importantly, would we be using thoroughbreds in our breeding plans if they were all those things? No!
That being said, much like different breeds of dog suit different owners and lifestyles, different types of horse do too. On the whole, thoroughbreds are better in regular work, so may not suit someone who needs a horse they can pick up and put down when needed. They tend to have poor feet, so are less likely to cope well without shoes and you might need more regular farrier visits or a hoof supplement. Many are also sensitive to different feeds, so it might take some time to find the right feed for them. Some struggle to keep weight on, some are good doers, some explode to starchy feeds, some get an upset stomach with too much sugar or alfalfa.
If they are an ex-racehorse, they will likely need retraining and strengthening. This takes time and can be really tricky if you are new to training horses. This is because not only do you have to teach them new things, you have to unteach them a lot of what they already know first.
So while they are such a diverse breed and there is a thoroughbred out there who would be perfect for everyone, I would never advise looking for one specifically as a novice. They can have more complicated needs than other types of horse and if they have come from racing, it can take a lot of work to get them close to where you want them to be.
Thoroughbreds really are incredibly diverse. Not only are they the best racehorses in the world, but they can also be seen in top-level; polo, eventing, showjumping, showing and dressage. So anyone who says thoroughbreds can only go fast in a straight line is clearly wrong.
However, that being said, being bred for speed, many thoroughbreds are built slightly downhill, meaning that their bum is a little higher than their withers. This makes it harder for them to collect and work uphill, meaning a lot of dressage movements will be harder for them. There is also some anecdotal evidence that horses who race over shorter distances tend to be quite wired, which can make settling for a dressage test harder for them. This is probably why you don’t see many thoroughbreds at Grand Prix dressage compared to those you see eventing at the top level.
For the average rider, who wants to do a bit of everything, a thoroughbred should be able to do it all. Once you start getting to higher levels, the average thoroughbred might not have a good enough conformation to enable them to compete at that level. But the same could be said for any breed of horse. At the top level of any sport, conformation becomes more important and more limiting so spending time to assess the conformation for purpose or asking a professional is a great idea.
If the horse hasn’t raced/trained to race, I would treat them the same as any other horse. If they have raced, the first thing I want to know is why they retired from racing. If they trained but never raced, I would again ask why. Most of the time it is due to a not showing enough potential or being a bit rubbish at it. But it is always good to check for any injuries what have caused them to retire.
If they have retired sound, I wouldn’t worry about them too much and would approach them as a normal horse. But it’s worth keeping in mind that they may start to show age related wear and tear younger than other horses, purely due to the amount of work they have already done in life.
If they have retired due to injury, you want to find out as much as you can about the injury. If they have returned to racing since the injury they are probably fine for whatever you want to do with them as a vet would have deemed them sound enough to race. If they haven’t raced since the injury, you will want a vet to look into the history and they will be able to give you a prognosis of how likely the horse is to be able to cope with what you want to do with them.
One of the great things about buying an ex racehorse, is how easy it is to find their racing history. You can just type in their name into the Racing Post and find out how they did in all their races, including comments on how they ran. By checking At The Races and Racing TV you can usually watch all of their races too. This is important if they were pulled up or fell in any of their races. You can often see the incident and then ask the trainer (if that is who you are buying from) about it.
Common injuries in racehorses are often tendon or pelvis related. I would feel the legs checking for tendon injuries as I would any other horse. Keep an eye out for a strange uniform spotty pattern either on the back or front of the cannon bones. This is a sign of pinfiring. While it isn’t common practice anymore, it is a sign that they have had treatment for their tendons in the past. Pelvis fractures are also common, which can lead to asymmetry in the pelvis. But lots of one sided work can also cause the asymmetry.
While it is good to be aware of any problems they are more likely to have, a bigger factor for me will always be, is that the reason they retired? If they were still ok to race with any imperfects or old injuries, then they will probably be fine for what you want to do. Plus any asymmetry can be improved with the correct work.
Everyone has a different idea of what the best thing to do with a horse fresh off the track is. But I personally think there is no wrong or right way, it really depends on the horse, your set up and time of year. If you have the space to completely turn them away for a few months to lose some fitness, many will benefit from that. But if you don’t have the land or you’re going into winter, you might be better off keeping them in work. The work could be going back to basics with groundwork or just getting on and riding away. I think any of those options can work.
The one thing I think everyone should do, is give them a full MOT. Either when you first get them or when they come back after being turned away (or both). This should be physio and dentist. Once you are starting to think about getting on, I always recommend a saddler with second hand and/or adjustable saddles. Your horse will change shape but you should always make sure their saddle fits.
Coming straight from racing they probably won’t come with any tack. When you are choosing a bridle, think simple. I think too many people assume an ex racehorse will be strong and silly and want a complicated bridle set up. But most horses race and are ridden in fairly simple bridles. My go to is always a double jointed snaffle, such as a French link, with either an eggbut or d ring. Then a simple cavesson noseband. But it is always worth asking the trainer what they usually wear.
When it comes to working with them, you should approach them the same way you would a youngster. But with the added challenge of a lot of what they already know, if wrong for what you want. So not only do you have to teach them almost from scratch, you first have to unteach a lot of what they already know.
The key thing to remember is they have lived very different lives to the typical horse. Many of the things we take for granted, like being tied up on the yard, or standing still at a mounting block are completely new for them. But at the same time, they are often very good with the farrier, vets and traffic.
In my experience of difficult ex racehorses, they came out of racing and went to the wrong owners. These owners weren’t necessarily bad owners, they just over horsed themselves or didn’t understand that the horse needed time to adjust and learn what their new life is. This is typically when they become dangerous.
Some are, some aren’t (like all horses). Scottie lives on air. He is currently coming out of winter a bit too fat, having been fed low cal balancer, chaff and slightly rationed hay all winter. My experience is the more grass and hay you can get into them, the less you have to worry about what feed they are having. But fibre is always the way to go.
Again, some are, some aren’t. Scottie has quite a high pain threshold, which has meant that injuries have been worse than we first thought! Interestingly, a vet friend of mine who has bred a few of her own eventers thinks thoroughbreds are actually sounder and less wimpy than sports horses.
Normally I would agree with this. But realistically, they are cheap because they aren’t worth anything as a racehorse and cost a lot of money to keep at the trainers yard, so they want to move them quickly. Yes they need work, but you get a lot of athlete for your money, you just need to treat them as a project.
Yes and no. You can retrain them, but that racing experience will always be in them. But that doesn’t mean you can’t ride them through an open field without them galloping off. In the early days, you will want to be careful about where you take them and what you do with them. But it doesn’t take them long to learn that they don’t only gallop.
Thank you to Ruby at EquiPepper for that brilliant advice on buying and owning thoroughbreds, we hope you can put it to good use when next searching for your new horse. Don’t forget you can advertise your horses for sale on Horse Search or check out the ones currently advertised. Be sure to go and check out the EquiPepper website for many more blogs and great advice.